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HISTORY:
- THE TASMANIAN BUSHMEN -
(page 1)
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Tales of the Old Tasmanian Bushmen

Author and researcher Col Bailey (Tasmanian Tiger Research & Data Centre) has kindly written the following historical presentation for the Thylacine Museum.  Bailey discusses the lives of Tasmania's old bushmen, with particular focus on their experiences with the thylacine.

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Tasmanian bushmen - circa 1900
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Tasmanian bushmen, circa 1900.  Courtesy: Moeller Archives.
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    The island state of Tasmania is lush with vast areas of natural bush, this adding a certain mystique to the term "bushman".

    "Tasmanian bushman" is a name that immediately conjures up images of hardy old timers who could turn their hands to any one of a number of occupational pursuits, from timber cutting to snaring for skins, and from mineral prospecting to cutting tracks.
 
    The bushmen featured in this presentation are those who were closely connected with the mining, trapping and snaring community in the early to middle years of last century, as well as those who made their living harvesting Huon pine in far-flung areas of Tasmania.  These men required a sturdy constitution and resilient nature to withstand the vagaries of weather, along with the many unseen dangers lurking in the unforgiving wilderness of the Tasmanian bush.  There were literally hundreds of these old bushmen the length and breadth of the island; some well known, others less so.
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Thomas Bather Moore - 1900
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A photograph of prospector, amateur botanist and geologist Thomas Bather Moore (1850-1919), taken on the Corduroy track in Western Tasmania in 1900.  Moore was around 50 years old at this time.  Courtesy: Moeller Archives.

    I have chosen some of the better known characters; those renowned for their ability to mine, harvest, trap, snare or shoot made them household names in their respective districts and beyond.  Many of these bushmen knew the Tasmanian tiger first hand, and as the opportunity presented itself, I interviewed many of them before they passed on.  Others were before my time, and because of this I have mainly selected bushmen from the early to middle years of the twentieth century.

    During the duration of the government bounty, a 20-year period which ran from 1888 to 1908 (although bounties continued to be paid into 1909 for kills from the previous year), some 2184 Tasmanian tigers were slain for the one pound sterling reward.  Many others were presented to local stock protection schemes, so the overall total would have been well in excess of the government figure.

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    Tucked away deep in the Central Highlands in an isolation that almost defied description were a reticent, self-contained group of true blue backwoodsmen, the Pearce clan, of the Black Bobs, Strickland, Clarence River and Derwent Bridge areas.  The Lyell Highway (then commonly called the West Coast Road) opened in 1932, but did not exist back in the thylacine bounty days.  There were no made roads into that isolated wilderness, only bullock tracks that were all but impassable for much of the time owing to the heavy yearly rainfall.  Snow and ice fell even in the middle of summer, and life was as tough as it could possibly be on this very frontier of civilisation.

    These hardy bushmen kept mainly to themselves; they weren't partial to strangers or government officials dropping in from what they considered the "outside world", and because of this, little was actually known about them.

Tasmanian bushman
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A Tasmanian bushman.  Source: State Library of Tasmania, PH 30 1 4846.
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That was, until in the early 1950s, when a young scientist named Eric Guiler undertaking thylacine research for the University of Tasmania ventured into what was then a virtual no-man's land.  Guiler accomplished what no one else had been capable of; winning the confidence of several members of the clan, namely Herb Pearce, and in doing so was able to tap into the vast amount of previously unknown practical information on the Tasmanian tiger.  It was tantamount to discovering a lost tribe. 

    Herb Pearce had claimed bounty on no less than forty-six "tigers", while his relatives down the road made claims on another twenty-five; most taken in the area to the east of the King William Saddle and now under the hydro Lake King William.  The Pearce clan were principally shepherds and sheep graziers.  They considered the tiger a threat to their livelihood, so they had to go - and they killed many.  There was apparently no love lost on "those bloody useless things", as Herb Pearce stated to Eric Guiler in 1953.

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References
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back to: Persecution (page 10) return to the section's introduction forward to: The Tasmanian Bushmen (page 2)


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